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Proletarian issue 45 (December 2011)
Communists and the struggle against imperialism
Only by returning to and uniting around the profound truths contained within the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao can the communist movement gain the strength it needs in the present era of crisis and war.
The most cursory glance at the contemporary international situation shows that imperialism’s inherent tendency to wage wars of aggression has not in any way disappeared. If anything it has become enhanced, notably after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of central and eastern Europe, since when we have seen numerous wars of colonial reconquest, such as those against Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and, most recently, Libya.

Moreover, faced with what is emerging as the gravest economic crisis in the history of capitalism, the pace and intensity of imperialism’s inexorable drive to war is increasing yet further. The imperialist powers are presently at war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. They are also waging unofficial and proxy wars in Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries. They are abetting and bankrolling the Israeli zionists’ war against the Palestinian people. This year they have also waged war against the Ivory Coast. And the list continues.

Even with war already raging on so many fronts, a further war is now being prepared against Syria, the danger of which grows with each passing day. Syria, in turn, is seen as a stepping stone to an attack on Iran ... and so on. Just as the wars of the 1930s, waged by the fascist powers against Spain, China, Korea, Albania and Ethiopia, paved the way for an attack on the socialist Soviet Union and an all-out world war, so today the imperialists’ ultimate target is the People’s Republic of China, a conflict which, if it came, would once again plunge the whole of humanity into the abyss of war.

Response of the communist movement to imperialist expansionism

Our party, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) has taken a consistent position on all this war-mongering activity of the imperialist powers – a position of absolute and implacable opposition to every aspect of all the wars prepared, instigated and waged by imperialism. And we have called for the victory of all those fighting against imperialism, irrespective of who they are, their social composition or the nature of their programme.

Sadly, this clear and straightforward position is far from universally accepted in the working-class or anti-war movements, whether in this country or elsewhere. Indeed, the scoundrels who dominate the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition have attempted to bureaucratically expel us for daring to express our unequivocal support for the government of Libya, whose overthrow was the objective of the vicious and predatory war waged by Nato and our own ruling class against the Libyan people. Such people are incorrigible counter-revolutionaries, heirs, in the main, to a bankrupt ideology, Trotskyism, which has betrayed and sabotaged every revolutionary movement to which it has come within sniffing distance since it first emerged as a discernible political trend in the 1920s.

However, the job of extirpating this counter-revolutionary filth from whatever toehold they might gain within the working-class movement would be made immeasurably easier if the whole communist movement was united around a clear and principled line. Sadly, this, too, is far from the case.

Around the world, there are a number of basically decent communist parties, some of them with deep roots amongst the working people, many of which are leading and waging principled and courageous struggles for socialism, yet who nevertheless fail to take a consistent anti-imperialist stand. Such parties have, for example, prevaricated in the face of the war against Libya, just as they did in the case of Iraq before, claiming that they could not give unequivocal support to such national-revolutionary leaders as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, as they were not communists.

Moreover, they have followed the imperialist media’s lead in maligning these leaders as ‘brutal dictators’ when in fact imperialism’s objection to them is that they directed their countries’ resources to developing infrastructure and industry, to lifting their peoples out of poverty, and also supported anti-imperialist struggles in all parts of the world. They died as heroes and martyrs leading their peoples’ struggles against imperialism for sovereignty, independence and control of their national resources for the benefit of ordinary people. Indeed, in these respects, they set examples that many communists could do well to emulate.

Some communist parties, in both Latin America and Europe, have also striven to find fault with and to slight the revolutionary governments of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, which are presently seeking ways to open a road to socialism in their countries.

Such mistakes and incorrect stands on the part of those who should be guiding the masses have served to weaken both the anti-imperialist struggle and the struggle for socialism, whose essential unity is encapsulated in the slogan advanced by Lenin and the Communist International (Comintern) long ago: “Workers and oppressed people of the world, unite!

And, since they weaken the struggle of the working and oppressed people, these positions run counter to Marxism Leninism.

Marxism Leninism contains a rich body of theory concerning the anti-imperialist national struggles of oppressed peoples, and the attitude that the proletariat should take towards them. This rich body of theory has been derived from the struggles of working and oppressed people around the world, and has been enriched and developed with their blood, making it a sacred and priceless inheritance of our movement.

With imperialism’s drive to war becoming ever more frenzied, the international communist movement needs to reaffirm and hold fast to these teachings. If such a vital outcome can be secured then both the anti-imperialist struggles of the oppressed nations and peoples and the proletariat’s struggle for socialism will surely take a great leap forward.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to make a modest contribution to that understanding and rectification by highlighting what is the principled revolutionary position on a number of related questions where presently sections of the communist movement are confused and disoriented, based on some key writings of the five greatest leaders and teachers of the working and oppressed people of the whole world: Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, V I Lenin, J V Stalin and Mao Zedong.

Tenets of Marxist-Leninist science

Our starting point is that the communist movement is, and has been from its inception, an international one. In the founding document of our movement, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx and Engels wrote:

The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

As we have noted above, there are still some comrades and parties in the communist ranks who pull back from unequivocal support for the anti-imperialist struggle on the grounds that some leaders of that struggle are ‘bourgeois’. Such a position runs completely counter to that of Lenin, one for which the founder of the first workers’ state in history fought with all his might.

Lenin insisted that, “all communist parties must assist the bourgeois-democratic liberation movement in these [oppressed] countries, and that the duty of rendering the most active assistance rests primarily with the workers of the country the backward nation is colonially or financially dependent on”. (‘Draft theses on national and colonial questions for the Second Congress of the Communist International’, Collected Works, Vol 31)

In the ensuing debate at that congress, Lenin further explained:

“What is the most important, the fundamental idea of our theses? It is the difference between the oppressed and the oppressor nations ... Imperialism is characterised by the fact that the whole world is now divided into a large number of oppressed nations and a very small number of oppressor nations that are enormously rich and strong in the military sense.

“The enormous mass, more than 1,000 million, most probably 1,250 million, and thus if we estimate the population of the world at 1,750 million some 70 percent of the world population belong to the oppressed nations, which are either in direct colonial dependence, or appear as semi-colonial states like, for example, Persia, Turkey and China, or which, defeated by a great imperialist army, have fallen into marked dependency after the peace treaties.

“This idea of the difference between nations, their division into the oppressed and the oppressors runs through all the theses.” (Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International, Fourth Session, 25 July 1920)

This approach was further spelled out in the ‘Theses on the eastern question’ adopted by the Comintern’s fourth congress in 1922. Here, the Bolsheviks explained: “The refusal of communists … to take part in the fight against imperialist tyranny, on the pretext of their supposed ‘defence’ of independent class interests, is the worst kind of opportunism and can only discredit the proletarian revolution in the East.” (Alan Adler [ed], Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, 1980)

But to listen to some communist parties today, one could be forgiven for thinking that the working-class position is only to support those uprisings and rebellions against imperialism that are clear in their goals and composition, and free of contradictions. Such a view was ridiculed by Lenin, who rounded on the ‘socialist’ critics of Dublin’s Easter Rising of 1916 as follows:

To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc – to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution.

So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism’, and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a ‘putsch’.

Whoever expects a ‘pure’ social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip service to revolution without understanding what revolution is.” (‘The discussion on self-determination summed up’, Collected Works, Volume 22)

Nor did Lenin subscribe to the view that the anti-imperialist struggle of the oppressed occupied a secondary, subordinate position to that waged by the proletariat in the imperialist heartlands. On the contrary, he stated:

The socialist revolution will not be solely, or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie – no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism. Characterising the approach of the world social revolution in the Party Programme we adopted last March, we said that the civil war of the working people against the imperialists and exploiters in all the advanced countries is beginning to be combined with national wars against international imperialism. That is confirmed by the course of the revolution, and will be more and more confirmed as time goes on.” (‘Address to the Second All-Russia Congress of Communist Organisations of the Peoples of the East’, 22 November 1919, Collected Works, Vol 30)

In one of his last articles, Lenin went so far as to state:

In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China, etc, account for the overwhelming majority of the population of the globe. And during the past few years it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured.” (‘Better fewer, but better’, 2 March 1923, Collected Works, Vol 33)

As with so many aspects of his work, these teachings of Lenin’s were based on, and developed, the pioneering work of the founders of our movement, Marx and Engels. In ‘The right of nations to self-determination’, Lenin wrote:

The policy of Marx and Engels on the Irish question serves as a splendid example of the attitude the proletariat of the oppressor nations should adopt towards national movements, an example which has lost none of its immense practical importance.” (May 1914, Collected Works, Vol 20)

Indeed, a brief review of Marx and Engels’ policy on the Irish question demonstrates that this observation of Lenin’s remains as true today as when he wrote it in 1914.

For Marx and Engels, resolute support for the struggle of the Irish people was not only a matter of justice for Ireland, but also something that was in the absolute and essential interest of the British working class.

On 9 April 1870, Marx wrote to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt as follows:

After studying the Irish question for many years I have come to the conclusion that the decisive blow against the English ruling classes (and it will be decisive for the workers’ movement all over the world) cannot be delivered in England but only in Ireland.”

On 10 December 1869, Marx wrote that his paper on the Irish question, to be read at the Council of the First International, would be couched as follows:

“Quite apart from all phrases about ‘international’ and ‘humane’ justice for Ireland - which are taken for granted in the International Council - it is in the direct and absolute interest of the English working class to get rid of their present connection with Ireland. And this is my fullest conviction…For a long time I believed that it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working class ascendancy…Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything until it has got rid of Ireland ... English reaction in England had its roots in the subjugation of Ireland.” (Cited in V I Lenin, ‘The right of nations to self-determination’, op cit)

Marx therefore held to his view of the importance and necessity of supporting the Irish people’s fight against British rule, irrespective of the forms of struggle adopted or the character of the leadership at any particular time. Yet in contrast to some of his latter-day would-be followers, he did not look at the movement seeking to find what was backward or reactionary but rather to identify its essentially progressive nature. Thus, on 30 November 1867, Marx wrote to Engels that:

Fenianism is characterised by socialist (in the negative sense, as directed against the appropriation of the soil) leanings and as a lower orders movement.” (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol 42)

This profound characterisation by Marx finds its broad analogy in many contemporary national-revolutionary movements, including those that held state power in Libya and Iraq until they were destroyed in genocidal imperialist wars of aggression.

But, even though too many communists fail to support anti-imperialist movements that have a clearly progressive social character and content, as was the case with the former governments of Iraq and Libya, along with a host of national-liberation movements from the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to the Irish republican movement, it is essential to grasp that the sole deciding question is not whether the movement in question has such a character, but whether a country, a party, a movement, or a leader is fighting against imperialism.

Everything else is subordinate to that overriding principle, including other democratic questions and rights, which again, too many communists raise (and not just where such problems exist but even where they do not) as a pretext for failing to support the anti-imperialist struggle. The genuine communist standpoint on this question was articulated with absolute clarity by J V Stalin as follows:

The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican programme of the movement, the existence of a democratic basis of the movement. The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such ‘desperate’ democrats and ‘socialists’, ‘revolutionaries’ and republicans as, for example, Kerensky and Tsereteli, Renaudel and Scheidemann, Chernov and Dan, Henderson and Clynes, during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle, for its results were the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory, of imperialism.

For the same reasons, the struggle that the Egyptian merchants and bourgeois intellectuals are waging for the independence of Egypt is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the bourgeois origin and bourgeois title of the leaders of the Egyptian national movement, despite the fact that they are opposed to socialism; whereas the struggle that the British ‘Labour’ government is waging to preserve Egypt’s dependent position is for the same reason a reactionary struggle, despite the proletarian origin and the proletarian title of the members of the government, despite the fact that they are ‘for’ socialism.

There is no need to mention the national movement in other, larger, colonial and dependent countries, such as India and China, every step of which along the road to liberation, even if it runs counter to the demands of formal democracy, is a steam-hammer blow at imperialism, ie, is undoubtedly a revolutionary step.” (Foundations of Leninism, 1924)

This Marxist-Leninist understanding was brilliantly applied and further developed by Mao Zedong, who, on this basis, led the Chinese revolution to victory, the second greatest victory of the working class after the October Revolution. Writing in January 1940, in the midst of the bitter war against Japanese imperialism, in which he had skilfully constructed a united front with Chiang Kai-shek, despite the fact that Chiang really was a butcher of communists, workers and peasants, Mao stated:

In this era, any revolution in a colony or semi-colony that is directed against imperialism, ie, against the international bourgeoisie or international capitalism, no longer comes within the old category of the bourgeois-democratic world revolution, but within the new category. It is no longer part of the old bourgeois, or capitalist, world revolution, but is part of the new world revolution, the proletarian-socialist world revolution. Such revolutionary colonies and semi-colonies can no longer be regarded as allies of the counter-revolutionary front of world capitalism; they have become allies of the revolutionary front of world socialism.

Although such a revolution in a colonial and semi-colonial country is still fundamentally bourgeois-democratic in its social character during its first stage or first step, and although its objective mission is to clear the path for the development of capitalism, it is no longer a revolution of the old type led by the bourgeoisie with the aim of establishing a capitalist society and a state under bourgeois dictatorship. It belongs to the new type of revolution led by the proletariat with the aim, in the first stage, of establishing a new democratic society and a state under the joint dictatorship of all the revolutionary classes.

Thus this revolution actually serves the purpose of clearing a still wider path for the development of socialism. In the course of its progress, there may be a number of further sub-stages, because of changes on the enemy’s side and within the ranks of our allies, but the fundamental character of the revolution remains unchanged.

Such a revolution attacks imperialism at its very roots, and is therefore not tolerated but opposed by imperialism. However, it is favoured by socialism and supported by the land of socialism and the socialist international proletariat ...

No matter what classes, parties or individuals in an oppressed nation join the revolution, and no matter whether they themselves are conscious of the point or understand it, so long as they oppose imperialism, their revolution becomes part of the proletarian socialist world revolution and they become its allies.”(‘On new democracy’, Selected Works, Vol 2, emphasis added)

Comrade Mao Zedong had no time for those who rejected the united front against imperialism. In ‘On tactics against Japanese imperialism’, he wrote, in words that apply equally to today’s anti-imperialist struggles:

Comrades, which is right, the united front or closed-doorism? Which indeed is approved by Marxism Leninism? I answer without the slightest hesitation – the united front and not closed-doorism. Three-year-olds have many ideas that are right, but they cannot be entrusted with serious national or world affairs because they do not understand them yet. Marxism Leninism is opposed to the ‘infantile disorder’ found in the revolutionary ranks. This infantile disorder is just what the confirmed exponents of closed-doorism advocate.

Like every other activity in the world, revolution always follows a tortuous road and never a straight one. The alignment of forces in the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary camps can change, just as everything else in the world changes. The party’s new tactics of a broad united front start from the two fundamental facts that Japanese imperialism is bent on reducing all China to a colony and that China’s revolutionary forces still have serious weaknesses. In order to attack the forces of the counter-revolution, what the revolutionary forces need today is to organise millions upon millions of the masses and move a mighty revolutionary army into action.

The plain truth is that only a force of such magnitude can crush the Japanese imperialists and the traitors and collaborators. Therefore, united-front tactics are the only Marxist-Leninist tactics. The tactics of closed-doorism are, on the contrary, the tactics of the regal isolationist. Closed-doorism just ‘drives the fish into deep waters and the sparrows into the thickets’, and it will drive the millions upon millions of the masses, this mighty army, over to the enemy’s side, which will certainly win his acclaim.

In practice, closed-doorism is the faithful servant of the Japanese imperialists and the traitors and collaborators. Its adherents’ talk of the ‘pure’ and the ‘straight’ will be condemned by Marxist Leninists and commended by the Japanese imperialists. We definitely want no closed-doorism; what we want is the revolutionary national united front, which will spell death to the Japanese imperialists and the traitors and collaborators.” (Selected Works, Vol 1)

Revolutionary and counter-revolutionary patriotism

Yet another mistake made by some communists is to excoriate the leaders of the anti-imperialist movement for their patriotism and national standpoint as though this were some sort of crime against the supposed purity of the revolution, rather than a basis of their struggle and a prerequisite of their victory. Marxism Leninism holds that there are, in fact, two types of patriotism, two types of nationalism, that of an oppressor nation, which is reactionary and unjust and that of an oppressed nation, which is progressive, just and revolutionary.

In ‘The role of the Chinese Communist Party in the national war’, Mao Zedong addressed this question as follows:

Can a communist, who is an internationalist, at the same time be a patriot? We hold that he not only can be but must be. The specific content of patriotism is determined by historical conditions. There is the ‘patriotism’ of the Japanese aggressors and of Hitler, and there is our patriotism.

Communists must resolutely oppose the ‘patriotism’ of the Japanese aggressors and of Hitler. The communists of Japan and Germany are defeatists with regard to the wars being waged by their countries. To bring about the defeat of the Japanese aggressors and of Hitler by every possible means is in the interests of the Japanese and the German people, and the more complete the defeat the better. This is what the Japanese and German communists should be doing and what they are doing. For the wars launched by the Japanese aggressors and Hitler are harming their own people as well as the people of the world.

China’s case is different, because she is the victim of aggression. Chinese communists must therefore combine patriotism with internationalism. We are at once internationalists and patriots, and our slogan is, ‘Fight to defend the motherland against the aggressors’. For us defeatism is a crime and to strive for victory in the War of Resistance is an inescapable duty. For only by fighting in defence of the motherland can we defeat the aggressors and achieve national liberation. And only by achieving national liberation will it be possible for the proletariat and other working people to achieve their own emancipation.

The victory of China and the defeat of the invading imperialists will help the people of other countries. Thus in wars of national liberation patriotism is applied internationalism.”(Selected Works, Vol 2, emphasis added)

Mao’s standpoint here is identical with that of Engels, who in 1882, wrote to Karl Kautsky that:

I therefore hold the view that two nations in Europe have not only the right but even the duty to be nationalistic before they become internationalistic: the Irish and the Poles. They are most internationalistic when they are genuinely nationalistic.” (Letter to Karl Kautsky by F Engels, 7 February 1882)

Marxism Leninism is not a dogma but a guide to action. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, the great revolutionary teachers, laid out with complete clarity the attitude of the revolutionary proletariat to the struggle against imperialism and towards the national movements of the oppressed. With imperialism convulsed with crisis and hurtling towards new and ever more dangerous wars of aggression, the work of reuniting and reinvigorating the entire international communist movement on this principled and revolutionary basis is one which will brook no further delay.

Uphold the revolutionary teachings and example of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao!

Victory to the resistance in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq!

Victory to all oppressed peoples fighting against imperialism!

Workers and oppressed people of the world, unite!


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